1 oz. Customer Service = 1 lb. Advertising

Today, Seth Godin posted on his ever-valuable blog on business and marketing the value of customer service at the moment a brand is under the most scrutiny by a customer. As Godin writes, airlines are realizing that delayed or cancelled flights are prime opportunities to offer potentially annoyed customers perks like free online books and movies while they wait.

Read more here and keep in mind Seth’s word of warning: “if your organization has a stall, deny and avoid policy when it comes to customer interaction, you will almost certainly be defeated if a competitor comes up with a scalable way to delight.

Apples And Oranges Can Coexist

Whether a manufacturer, retailer or service provider, most great companies will employ customer satisfaction surveys to measure how effectively they are meeting or (hopefully) surpassing their customer’s expectations.  Frequently these companies will also have a mystery shop program in place to help measure and drive improvement in operations and customer experience.  Often times, when companies have both types of programs in place, they are developed, executed and consumed in separate spheres within an organization, with little or no thought as to how these programs could be used in conjunction for maximum benefit. Rather than treating these research methodologies like apples and oranges, companies can achieve maximum value by using them together.

Most customer satisfaction surveys will, at a minimum, provide a very generic rating of customer satisfaction on several aspects of the customer experience, as well as a more holistic rating of the overall experience.  By correlating the individual aspects of the customer interaction to overall ratings, the key drivers of a great customer experience will come into focus.  Yet, when comparing these crucial aspects of the customer experience to what is being measured in a mystery shopping program, there are many instances where there is a disconnect. The mystery shops may be not be focusing on or missing entirely these crucial drivers of customer satisfaction.  The following example may better illustrate this point.

A large retailer recently moved their mystery shopping program to IntelliShop from a competitor.  We were discussing ways to improve their mystery shop questionnaire and in these discussions it was asked if they have ever executed a customer satisfaction program, and if so would they be willing to provide the results.  The company had and did share the most recent data set from survey.  After combing through the data from the customer satisfaction survey, it was clear that the largest driver of customer was the checkout process. Yet when looking at their prior mystery shop questionnaire, this aspect of their operations was completely absent. The company wasn’t measuring their performance on the most crucial driver of their customer’s satisfaction!  Obviously this oversight was quickly corrected, and the mystery shop questionnaire modified to include and capture metrics about the checkout experience. Rather than develop a mystery shopping program based on assumptions, we had actual customer feedback to help focus the mystery shop on the operations that were the core drivers of overall satisfaction.

If customer satisfaction survey results can be correlated back to specific locations, the results can be instrumental in determining frequency of mystery shops at each location (provided the sample size at the location level is large enough to make the results statistically significant).  For instance, by increasing shop frequency at the stores/locations that consistently perform poorly in customer satisfaction surveys, while reducing the shops at the high performers, significant improvements in store performance can be actualized much more rapidly than would otherwise be achievable, without affecting budgets.

One of the flaws of customer satisfaction surveys is the subjective nature of the information they yield and their inability to collect detailed operational measurements.  They can provide good understanding into what are the general drivers of a positive customer experience; however, they cannot provide the detailed measures of store operations and performance in these areas. Without these details operational metrics it is impossible to develop, refine and test adherence best practices and processes.  Mystery shopping is the most effective way to collect this information.  While satisfaction surveys can give you the “what”, mystery shopping is the best way to get particulars on the “how” and “why” certain aspects of the customer experience drive satisfaction, and if these drivers are being performed effectively.  

Taken individually, both mystery shopping and customer satisfaction surveys are great tools for gathering insights into the customer experience.  Satisfaction surveys measure the outcomes of the customer experience, and mystery shops measure process performance.  Each provide only a part of the picture when trying to measure and improve customer satisfaction.  Used together, a company will not only have a deeper and more holistic view of the customer experience, they will be able to quickly find out where issues with satisfaction or dissatisfaction may be addressed,  and drive improvement in those areas far more rapidly than would otherwise be possible. Ultimately, by merging these research tools together and using them in tandem you will build a deeper level of customer loyalty and a higher incidence of referral, and that is very good for the bottom line.

Customer Retention: Who’s Got The Goods?

Obtaining new business is an important part of building and sustaining a business, but retaining customers is just as important, if not moreso. Many companies are guilty of spending lots of time and effort on getting those new customers in the door, but they often forget to maintain, thank, and take care of the customers that enable them to stay in business.

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the basic things that keep our customers happy. Here’s a refresher:

  1. Build the relationship and make it personal: Take the time to really get to know your customers. Target your most loyal customers and send them specials or updates pertaining to the items/services they use most. It’s pretty likely they will share their story with a friend or colleague who will appreciate the effort to customize their experience. Suddenly one wildly loyal fan turns into two.
  2. Stay in touch: Don’t get too comfortable with your customers; you never know who’s lurking in the shadows seeking their business. Always make it a point to reach out, by phone if possible, to make sure all is well, learn more about their business, and find more ways to provide value for their investment with your company.  
  3. Putting out the fires: It’s inevitable - problems will arise. It’s how quickly, sincerely, and effectively you solve the problem that will show your customer how truly committed you are.  Taking quick, decisive and caring action will solidify your relationship.  

Here’s a real-world example I have experienced.  In most “big box” fitness centers you are simply a number.  No one knows your name and you get the distinct feeling they also just don’t care to know you; that really irritates me.  Even more irritating, whenever there’s an issue, you are redirected to the allusive corporate office line, which no one ever seems to answer.

So I finally left the corporate facility and joined a family owned place, in which every single employee already knows my name.  Every time I walk in I am greeted by name, I am also given a farewell by all employees at the desk.  The other day a new trainer appeared and because we hadn’t yet met, he went out of his way to extend a greeting and ask for my name.  As I left that day the associate (from the back of the gym) yelled up at me, by name, to have a great day.  Now you may be thinking that it’s not too hard to remember a few member names, but these people greet everyone by name, all the time.

They have the goods…

The Giants, Patriots, or Pizza Delivery - who will deliver?

On Sunday, February 5th, the New York Giants and New England Patriots will face off in the Super Bowl and fans across the country are hoping they deliver.   Many of those same fans will also be counting on their favorite pizza chain to deliver a hot fresh pizza in time for the game.  Papa Johns, the Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL, set a single-day sales record last year on Super Bowl Sunday!  Domino’s predicts they will deliver over 1 million pizzas this year and Pizza Hut is forecasting more than 2 million.  How many of those pizzas will make it to their destination on time and most importantly, prepared correctly?   Most leading pizza chains ramp up their staff, ingredients, and marketing to handle the high demand of Super Bowl Sunday.  They should also be ramping up their customer feedback.  I’ve heard businesses state, “that’s the busiest day of the year and I don’t need you to tell me that we are bad.”  The unfortunate part of that statement is that fans have zero chance of changing the outcome of the game, but they have many options to change the outcome of their pizza delivery.   

Pizza chains may not be able to react to the feedback in time to make changes this year (although social media is changing this quickly), but they can use the feedback when planning for the next Super Bowl.  Pizza is the number one food of choice at game time and that represents a massive opportunity every single year.  If you don’t get it right this year, you can always make adjustments and capitalize next year.   That is, as long as you don't treat your customers "too" poorly, and hope they come back to you instead of a competitor next year.  Plan a targeted feedback campaign with a focus on keeping core customers happy or wowing the fringe or first time customer.

The Last Mile

New York Times bestselling author Ramit Sethi sums up his article about “the last mile” by referencing the peak-end rule: “…we judge out past experiences almost entirely on how they were at their peak (pleasant or unpleasant) and how they ended. Virtually all other information appears to be discarded, including net pleasantness or unpleasantness and how long the experience lasted.”

Sethi wrote about the last mile nearly five years ago and his thoughts are even more relevant today. The importance of the last mile – “the last point of contact to a customer” – truly cannot be overstated, and failure at the last mile can be exponentially more expensive to correct than maintaining last mile excellence.

Best Buy must have learned this lesson the hard way. While Best Buy stores may be meticulously designed and stocked, customer service was not considered a strongsuit. For the better part of a decade, customers ranted about Best Buy’s failure at the last mile in droves using websites like At the time Sethi wrote about the last mile, “” was still in the top Google search results when searching for “Best Buy.” As Sethi points out, “without logistics, Best Buy wouldn’t have products to sell in the first place,” but Best Buy certainly paid for its failures at the last mile.

Best Buy’s most recent negative publicity came after cancelling a number of online orders days before Christmas (one full month after orders were placed around Black Friday). Here, Best Buy learned from their previous failures at the last mile and made the most out of a logistical issue. After cancelling less than 1% of orders, Best Buy reached out to the effected consumers to apologize and offer electronic gift cards. This action proves that Best Buy now understands that while all errors cannot be prevented, that last point of contact is oftentimes more important in the eyes of the consumer than the original error.

Few will argue with the fact that customer service is important, but just how important can often go overlooked when focusing on the other aspects of doing business.

Read Ramit Sethi’s article here ( for more examples of success and failure at the last mile and read more about Best Buy’s order cancellations here (